Win, Place or No-Show
Lynn McDowell


Ever heard of a sure bet? My husband has, and groans every time I utter those words. It all started with the '96 Triple Crown races. After Diligently studying the Daily Racing Form and pouring over all the facts and figures therein, I picked Grindstone for the Derby because, well…… I liked his name. It seemed like a good omen: I'd had my nose to the grindstone for so long, I figured a horse with that name would have to pay off. And so it did…what a race! I then proceeded to pick the Preakness and Belmont winners for reasons every bit as judicious - - they were beautiful horses and I liked the jockeys.

Triumphant with three wins under my belt, I was confident I had a lucrative career as and armchair handicapper ahead of me, and I took the job seriously. I watcher re-runs of the truly great horse races, studied bloodlines and read every book ever written on the art of handicapping. I leaned that there are exceptions to every rule, and rules to every exception. The more information I acquired, the less I knew. It reminded me of a Mark Twain adage: "if the experts continue to study the science, pretty soon we'll know nothing as all." I concluded that my methods were every bit as accurate as the pros'. Yes, indeed, I'd honed my handicapping skills to such a fine point, they were almost non-existent. Thus emboldened, I geared up for the '97 Triple Crown.

By December, I had my eye on a few possibles: Touch Gold, Concerto, Hello, Accelerator, CryptoStar, and of course, the beloved Captain Bodgit. Watching the Louisiana Derby sealed it for me though; no doubt in my mind that Pat Day would ride CryptoStar to the winner's circle in the "run for the roses." I let everyone know it, too… my riding buddies, my dog's groomer, my daughter and her friends, even my electrician. "Bet on this horse," I exhorted them all, convincingly. Now it just so happened that my husband was in New York at the time, where off-track betting is legal, so he meticulously wrote down all those bets, and never mind the money - - we'd collect on Derby day. (If anyone employed by the IRS is reading this, I'm just kidding.)

On that first Saturday in May, I excitedly donned my Derby hat, and stared at my TV in wide-eyed disbelief as CryptoStar did not win or place. He was more like a no-show, not even close to the finish line when that little gray streak of lightning known as Silver Charm bolted under the wore. I wasn't even sure CryptoStar had been in the race! His performance reminded me of a racehorse my mother-in-law once bought named, appropriately, Jughead. Oh, he had record-breaking workouts. His problem was that he liked to run alone, and if he couldn't do that, by God, he wouldn't run at all. The only time he didn't finish last was when he raced his half-brother who had a similar attitude, and the two of them were almost walking by the time they reached the finish line. It was the longest claiming stakes in history — not in distance, but in time. Jughead's next race was to the auctioneer's block.

So…. I drank a great many mint juleps on Derby Day and didn't show my shamed face in public for a week. Nor could I bring myself to collect on all those bets, so my humorless husband was out a few hundred bucks, (which I'm working off by writing.)

So much for my handicapping skills. These days when I go to the track, my husband empties my wallet of all but ten dollars - - most of which I'm relieved of within the first few races, I'm proud to say. The bookies adore me.

I've got my eye on Favorite Trick for this year's Triple Crown. I think this colt's a sure bet. OK, OK, so a Breeder's Cup Juvenile winner has never won the Kentucky Derby. But records are meant to be broken, as Jughead so adroitly demonstrated. Besides, Favorite Trick was bred for speed, can run like greased soap under any track conditions, and hasn't lost a race yet. But most importantly, he's got a great name, don't you think??


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Ó 1998 First Electronics Rights


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